Faking Like You Know What You’re Doing

People really seem to think I have any idea what I’m talking about.

Today I was at work in the Rowan University Writing Center, where I work as a writing tutor. One of the other tutors was with a student who needed help with a cover letter for his resume. The tutor was offering advice on how to clean up the grammar and keep the cover letter focused, to make sure that it says what it needs to in a quick, clear, concise manner. The idea is to remember that whoever is reading the cover letter has read dozens if not hundreds of others like it, so you want to get what you need to say out quick before you lose their interest and they move on to the next one.

At one point, the other tutor asked the other tutors (including me) for clarification on some point he was making. My honest response was, “I have no idea how to write a cover letter.”

His immediate response was, “Dude, you wrote a book. You can do anything.”

This is true. It is also completely false.

It’s true that I wrote a book. Though that certainly doesn’t make me qualified to write something like a one page cover letter. In fact, most authors I know tend to struggle with cover letters when they are pitching their books to agents. A cover letter is a completely different type of monster than a novel. It’s like writing in a different genre. You don’t use any of the flowery prose that might make a novel more beautiful, you don’t have hundreds of pages to work with, and you don’t get to fictionalize anything you want. Sure, you can be creative in your presentation, but a cover letter is ultimately about making a pitch, hooking someone’s interest, and getting them to give you a chance. This applies equally whether it’s a cover letter for an agent who you want to give your novel a chance, or a cover letter for your resume for an employer you want to give you a chance.

Sure, I’ve written cover letters before. I wrote one to get my current job, and I’m sure to have to write another one soon when I need to get a new job at the end of the school year. I’ve read an entire book on how to write effective cover letters. I’ve taken classes at Rowan that included how to write a cover letter as part of the program. Theoretically, I should know how to write an effective cover letter.

But really, I’m just making it all up as I go along.

I do this with a lot of things. Some of my Rowan classmates complain that I’m “so far ahead” in our graduate thesis work, because I wrote mine during NaNoWriMo last year. But I feel like I’m behind some of them since they already have more established careers than I do, or at least know what kind of jobs they plan to pursue after graduation. They act like my ability to write a lot of words in a short period of time is an enviable skill, when I am more worried about the focus and dedication it takes to turn those words into a completed product. They tell me I’ll have an “easy semester” because I’m done the first draft of my thesis, when in truth I have two novels I need to revise this spring. Usually, I just keep my mouth shut because I’m not sure how to say “I’ve got a lot more work to do than you realize” without it sounding rude.

Maybe there’ll come a point where things are easier and I’m not constantly feeling overwhelmed by work and to-do lists. But I doubt it. That’s how life tends to be, after all. For the time being, I’ll be content to get my next novel revised, find a full time job in the writing field, and work on paying off my student loans.

Hopefully no one figures out that I’m faking it all.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook


New Year, Three Weeks Late

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed an extreme lack of blog posts lately. I blame a combination of depression, unemployment, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (not necessarily in that order).

Today is the first day of the new semester at Rowan University. The last semester before I get my master’s degree. After a month off, I really need to be back in school. I find I don’t do well without some sort of schedule or routine to keep me in check. The result is lots of lazing around, playing video games, and not doing any work on my revisions. Feel free to berate me about that last one in order to get me back on track.

It also leads to quite a few days where I say “I should write a blog post today,” then I end up not writing one. Mostly because it’s hard to find inspiration in a bag of Doritos and a Final Fantasy marathon. Those things are, however, chock full of calories and ennui.

On an up note, I’ve been talking to several people this past week who told me they finished Manifestation. Tock seems to be a fan favorite. I suppose that’s what happens when I take a cross between Kaylee and Agatha Heterodyne and give her flashy magic powers and a bad attitude. She’s quite neat.

I suppose that about covers what I’ve been up to. Hopefully today will be the real start of the new year for me. Though I do still have a princess to track down in FFIX, so I may be otherwise occupied.

Science Fiction, Science Fact

Image Source: http://www.thebuzzmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/war-of-the-worlds-xbla-psn-title.jpg
Image Source: http://www.thebuzzmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/war-of-the-worlds-xbla-psn-title.jpg

I’m currently reading H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which is one of the great classics of science fiction. It was first written in 1898, when our scientific advancements weren’t anywhere near what they are today. It’s interesting to see how the scientific knowledge at the time influenced certain . . . inaccuracies in the text.

At the beginning of the book, Wells describes the launching of the attack ships from Mars, visible from Earth as small eruptions of light from the surface of Mars. During this section, Wells describes what seems to be the assumptions about Mars at the time:

The planet Mars, I scarcely need to remind the reader, revolves about the sun at a mean distance of 140,000,000 miles, and the light and heat it receives from the sun is barely half of that received by this world. It must be, if the nebular hypothesis has any truth, older than our world; and long before this earth ceased to be molten, life upon its surface must have begun its course. The fact that it is scarcely one-seventh of the volume of the earth must have accelerated its cooling to the temperature at which life could begin. It has air and water and all that is necessary for the support of animated existence.

…Its physical condition is still largely a mystery, but we know now that even in its equatorial region the midday temperature barely approaches that of our coldest winter. Its air is much more attenuated than ours, its oceans have shrunk until they cover but a third of its surface, and as its slow seasons change huge snow caps gather and melt about either pole and periodically inundate its temperate zones.

He goes on to theorize that the motivation of the Martians’ attack is because they see our fertile green and blue planet as having all the natural resources that Mars lacks.

Image Source: http://space-facts.com/wp-content/uploads/mars.jpg
Image Source: http://space-facts.com/wp-content/uploads/mars.jpg

We can easily fact-check some of this information against what we currently know, considering we have robots on mars right now. Mars is about 142 million miles from the sun, so Wells had that just about right. Mars is about 15.1% the volume of Earth, close enough to the 1/7 Wells states. But when he says “the midday temperature barely approaches that of our coldest winter,” that doesn’t even come close to describing Mars’ average surface temperature of -81 degrees F.

The biggest inaccuracy, however, is when he says that “It has air and water and all that is necessary for the support of animated existence.” Mars has an atmosphere that is mostly carbon dioxide, and so far we haven’t found any water there. There’s some evidence to indicate there might be water on Mars, but there’s certainly no oceans like Wells described.

Wells was no doubt letting his imagination fill in some details, while getting others from the limited scientific information available at the time. Pretty much all sci fi does this. It’s likely that in four hundred years, we’ll look back at Star Trek as being just as inaccurate to the realities of interstellar travel and exploration. It can also be seen in movies that take place in the “near future,” such as how Back to the Future II took us from 1989 (the year it came out) to 2015 (this year). There’s lots of analysis out there of what Back to the Future got wrong and what it got right. Of course, the filmmakers are on the record saying they designed the future to be a joke, not even trying to get it accurate. Still, they hit the mark on quite a few areas.

When it comes down to it, this is one of the risks you take with any speculative fiction. Books, movies, and TV shows get plenty of stuff wrong all the time (The Mythbusters make a living off exposing many of those inaccuracies). And when it comes down to it, no one should expect a writer to get everything 100% right. You do the best you can, you tell an entertaining story, and you hope that the reader can suspend their disbelief enough that they don’t get pulled out of the story. For the most part, I’m able to stay in this story. And when something is jarring to me, I pause and think, That’s just because it was written in 1898.

Though one thing I’ll give Wells credit for is that he has a very authentic voice. He writes this story as if it actually happened to him, and he even addresses the reader at a few points. He also makes references to what “other survivors” have written about the attacks and then goes on to explain why they’re wrong because they didn’t see what he saw firsthand. It makes for some pretty fascinating storytelling.

The Not-So-Evils of Technology

Image Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_middlebrow/2006/02/can_you_fear_me_now.html
Image Source: http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/the_middlebrow/2006/02/can_you_fear_me_now.html

Technology is evil. It rots our brains, makes us less social, and leads to shorter attention spans. People never go out anymore; they spend all of their time on the internet. People don’t talk to each other; they text. People need to unplug and focus more on making genuine human connections.

All of that is a bunch of bull, and here’s why.

Technology, like anything else, is a tool. It’s not evil, it’s not rotting our brains, and it’s not leading to the breakdown of society. In fact, in many ways simple things like texting, Twitter, television, and so on can actually make your life better.

I hear so many people complain about technology, yet like many types of complaints, they never actually think things through. Here’s a few examples:

Spending too much time on Twitter makes you anti-social

This is a bunch of baloney. A lot of the time, it comes from parents who think their children are ignoring the family because they spend so much time online. Yet the simple truth is, kids didn’t want to spend times with their families long before the internet was invented. If kids wanted to sit at home all day spending time with their boring parents and their pain-in-the-ass siblings, they wouldn’t sneak out of the house to hang out with friends, or lock themselves in their rooms playing loud music, or doing any of the millions of other things kids do when they want to be left alone. The difference with a website like Twitter is that it allows you to actually make friends and interact with people in a safe, controlled way. You can pick and choose the people you interact with, block the ones who bother you, and keep up to date on current events or live-tweet community experiences like the season premier of your favorite show. It’s a way for people to have fun and be social, just without having to limit your social group to people who are geographically close to you.

Kids text too much and don’t develop communication skills

People of any age can be shy. Communication is hard, especially for someone who is unpopular, awkward, or has low self-esteem. But a lot of the time it can be easier to get to know someone one text at a time. You can take your time, develop your thoughts, and make sure you aren’t inhibited by your shyness. Plus, texting can actually be more efficient in some ways. It’s much easier to, say, read a book or do some homework while you’re texting someone than while you’re on the phone with them. Being on the phone generally requires your full attention, whereas texts can be sent whenever you have a break in what you’re doing. The asynchronous nature of texting can make it a more powerful form of communication in many ways.

The internet is just for silly cat pictures and porn

Sometimes people go overboard with pictures. It can seem excessive at times, making you wonder why people need to share eight million pictures of their dog, their coffee, and their feet. But on the other hand, pictures can be used to communicate quite a bit. Memes in particular have become a fascinating form of communication. For example, when one of my writer friends is slacking, I’m likely enough to send them an encouraging photo. When they tell a corny joke, I’ll play a rimshot. Or when they’re having a bad day, I might send them a sweet e-card.

And then there’s some things you just can’t say with words.

Internet time should be limited

Because naturally, it’s about quantity over quality. To some people, it doesn’t matter if you’re using the internet for education, social interaction, creative pursuits, and other wholesome activities. They still see it as something you can have “too much of.” But I say, there’s nothing wrong with being on the internet for hours on end if you’re using it the right way. Five hours straight on a silly cat picture Tumblr page? Okay, that’s too much. But if you spent the same length of time reading educational materials, talking to friends, doing research, and playing classical music videos on YouTube, would that be such a bad thing?

All people do online is complain

That’s ridiculous. Who spends all their time online complaining about other people? It’s not like anyone would read an entire blog post that was just a long angry rant…

Tee hee.

mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

CreateSpace and Amazon

and in ebook format through:

Kindle and Nook